Sam’s Hill, by Jack Ricardo
Mr. Ricardo has a flair for historical fiction, but…
Story Blurb: A young man coming to grips with his homosexuality during the latter half of the 19th century, through four years of The Civil War, the Indian Wars with General Custer’s 7th Cavalry, into the rough and tumble town of Cheyenne and up into the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory.
*Available in Kindle format, 382KB
Review by Gerry Burnie
A revisiting of the American Civil War is not a new theme, nor is gay, Union and Confederate soldiers, but “Sam’s Hill” by Jack Ricardo [Amazon Digital Services, 2010] contains some of the best, graphic descriptions of battlefield action I have ever read; the carnage, the confusion, the fear and the impersonal killing are all there in almost tangible detail.
The plot—at least for the first half of the story—is equally well conceived with some quite unexpected twists.
Sam Cordis is a young Union volunteer from New Jersey; green, innocent, seeking to become his “own man” and heading west when the war is over, “…a mere two or three months, he was sure.”
After a taste of war, and the reality of it, i.e.
“The order came. “Tear Cartridges.”
“Sam did exactly that. He poured powder into the barrel of his musket, dropped a metal ball inside, stuffed the ramrod down to push the ball into position, and carefully placed a cap under the hammer.
“When he heard the first shot, the taut skin of his neck strangled his throat, his heart stopped. The woods began bleeding with an indistinct jumble of men in gray yelling ferociously, shooting indiscriminately. Sam wanted to run for cover. There was none. And there was no interference when he lifted his musket.
“He stayed his mind, focussed his eyes, spied his target. He couldn’t see the Rebel clearly. He didn’t know if he was young or old, an officer or a volunteer. He was merely a target. Sam aimed the weapon with ease, as if marking a jackrabbit on the banks of New Jersey’s Rampo River. He pressed the trigger and squeezed as his older brother taught, gently, caressing the tender skin of a newborn calf. The report of the musket was lost in the din.
“Sam didn’t wait to see if the ball hit its mark. He followed the example of the others, crossing the former path, running wide, stumbling, turning, reloading, firing again, this time with haste. As hastily as the enemy fired at him.”
Under such perilous circumstances men frequently bond out of necessity, and the mores of a conventional society are either relaxed or shirked in favour of a new reality. So it was with Sam and his young companion, Davie, when a tender friendship gradually blossomed into love, like a flower amidst the ruin. Just as quickly, however, it was snuffed by a sniper’s bullet, but not before Sam had discovered a love that would not be denied.
As the war dragged on Sam found himself in Savannah, Georgia, with Sherman’s army, and during a lull in the hostilities he is drawn to the docks in search of male companionship. It is a mixture of intrigue and inert desire until he encounters an older man who almost succeeds in fanning his smouldering desire into a flame. However, in an unexpected twist, he is mugged and then rescued aboard a gunboat where the stranger is first mate. Romance nearly blossoms there as well, but when the gunboat is attacked Sam is thrown overboard during the mêlée. Miraculously he is washed ashore on the coast of Florida, and making his way inland he encounters a regiment of Black, Union soldiers, who are themselves captured by Confederate forces.
A forced march then proceeds to a POW camp somewhere in South Georgia—a non-regulation compound where corruption and cruelty prevail. A “King Rat” type-of-character also rules, and he sets his sights on seducing Sam. On the other hand, Sam befriends a badly wounded youth who would otherwise die. These are the characters that will play a significant role later in the story, but for now they are certainly interesting enough.
When peace if declared Sam and the now rehabilitated youth start for their respective homes in the north, where Sam’s several family members await, but first there is another character to be met; an Indian brave named Kehoe.
To this point I would have no hesitation in giving this story a five-star rating. The journalism is first rate, the characters are interesting and credible, the action is breathtaking, and the pace compelling.
Regretfully, the second half of the story begins to bog down under the burden of characters that, in their numbers and complexities, nearly overwhelm the reader. Likewise, to accommodate each of their parts, the story looses its linearity to twist and coil around the various subplots.
There is no question that Mr. Ricardo has a flare for historical fiction, but sometimes less is more. Four stars.
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